Now that all the prep races have concluded and the Kentucky Derby field is starting to come to light, it is time to start the final analysis before the workouts come out and the field is drawn. This is definitely a very difficult field and one of the best in years. There is defintely a strong group of horses at the top, all of which are a class above the rest, but even those below have a strong chance. We have seen many amazing prep races, one right after another, with performances that leave lasting impressions on us. Now, it is time to look past the emotion that they gave us and see each for what it is worth. With only a few weeks before the Run for the Roses, it is time to sort out the contenders. So, after careful analysis of each Derby hopeful, here is my Top Ten.
Now that a proposed plan has been established, it is time to deal with the feasibility of not only getting this plan enacted, but also how successful it would be in limiting medication use. One of the big problems with current drug regulations is the limited testing. The Texas Legislative Council did a study on regulation of performance enhancing drugs, posting their findings in 2012. They compiled many of the testing rules from the various states. For post-race testing, none of the states surveyed required every horse in a race to test in the post-race. In fact, most of the states required just the winner and for some races a few other horses, but never the whole field. Of course for pre-race testing, every horse must be tested at entry. The current testing rules seem a little bit lopsided, allowing trainers some leeway when using race-day medications. Basically, the rule is that if your horse does not win or does not get selected, you will not get caught. This proposal solves that problem by having tests done on every horse in a race, not only a few.
The one problem with this proposed plan is the implementation. Widespread implementation right from the start is impossible; if it was possible, uniform rulings would have already have happened. However, starting small is the way to go. I already have plans to send this to the racing board in Pennsylvania within the coming weeks. Going state by state will allow more people to see the benefit of a points system. The AQHA is successful with their medication violation program so why can’t thoroughbred racing be successful with this. While this will take a lot of time to implement, as well as a monetary cost for state testing, eventually a system like this is necessary. One way to mitigate these costs is by using the US Anti-Doping Agency, which has already taken a look at integrating itself into horse racing, to provide the tests. However before that happens, this system would need to be implemented in more than just one state. Together, with you my readers, we can help this system grow and save the sport we love. Until we correct the dark cloud that drug use has given to horse racing, there will always be a large amount of people opposed to the sport, as well as limiting the international success of American horse racing. If we were to clean up the tracks, there would be a larger pool of international horses that would race in the states, where purses are larger. Since most international horses cannot use race-day medications and are very limited in other medications, it becomes much more difficult to draw them to race here. A uniform drug system helps expand the American brand both nationally and internationally. It is finally time to take a stand and move towards what other countries have done with horse racing. While we are still too far away to have completely drug-free racing, this would be a step in the right direction. Of course there are going to be trainers and owners opposed to such a system, but that just reveals the character of those people. If they truly believed that they would stay within the rules then they should support this system. If not, then how are we supposed to trust that they do not drug their horses now? We can start moving forward towards the system that Ogden Mills Phipps wants, one that gives a “level playing field.”
Thank you for following our three part series. Please, spread the word about this plan. One way to do that is by going to your state racing board. Other ways are by talking to people in the industry or the local press. Also, you can follow this link to a Change.org petition in support of this proposal. The more people that know and support this plan, the more likely we can move towards a clean racing product.
Yesterday, we saw that not only is now the time to act on this issue, but also that there is substantial backing by leaders in the sport. Today, it is time to propose a plan that would help solve many of the issues that Ogden Mills Phipps brought up. We ended part one talking about the AQHA violation system. Now, let’s try to apply this system to thoroughbred racing. In order to set guidelines for medication violations, the threshold and list of controlled medications is stated in the Table 1, which is amended from the New York State Gaming Commission amendment from December 3, 2014. Those listed in italics will be considered Level 3 drugs, with the rest being considered Level 4 drugs (for our purposes, Level 1 will be the highest level and Level 4 will be the lowest level). Before continuing, let me concede that I am nowhere near an expert in racing medications nor am I in the industry; I am using research as well as my own knowledge of medication rulings in other racing jurisdictions and other sports in order to make my claims for this proposal. With that being said, let us continue.
The points system would be based off of the threshold of each drug. The points accumulated would stay on record; however, for every 180 days without a positive drug test of any level, two points are removed from the record; no points can be lost if those 180 days or any fraction thereof were spent suspended. Table 2 represents the points handed out for horses, trainers, and owners with respect to the level that the drug is listed as.
The point values for horses are slightly increased since they are the most affected by the drugs. Banned substances are given the strictest and receive the most combined points. Also, besides receiving points for use of a banned substance, the trainer receives a $5,000 fine on top of any other finds as stipulated by the points system. Trainers and owners may request a retest only within 48 hours of the ruling. If not a large enough sample exists for a proper retest, then the points are removed and the race track official who collected the sample is fined. All samples be enough for three tests to be run. All samples must be preserved for one year from the initial test or six months from the ruling, whichever comes later. After one retest, no further retests may be requested, but the ruling can be appealed. During the appeals process, the points remain on the record.
As points are accumulated, penalties are received. Table 3 lists those penalties by utilizing a points range.
These penalties are meant to be used as a deterrent so that trainers and owners don’t use drugs on their horses. Yes, these are very strict penalties, however strict penalties need to be in place in order to keep the trainers and owners in line. Of course, any horse found to have been racing while medicated above the legal limit is automatically stripped of its placing in the race and the purse money is redistributed amongst the other horses in the race. These drug tests would be performed at entry for a race for all horses, after the race for all horses, and if fifty days have passed since the last test, one will be given. Most of the larger penalties should rarely be reached as a good percentage of trainers only get a few positive drug tests per year, which would only lead to a few points accumulated. These penalties are actually less strict compared to those of the AQHA. This gives a little more leeway and allows for an easier transition from the old systems to this.
There a few rules that should also be in place for racetracks. In order to slowly ease towards drug-free horse racing, racetracks would be mandated to have at least six percent of their races carded as Lasix-free. Keeneland is in the process of establishing Lasix-free races to be carded throughout their meet. The Breeders Cup has been in the process of making their races Lasix-free, having started with the races for two-year-olds a few years ago. Also, at least one stakes race, does not be graded, must be Lasix-free and contain a purse of at least $50,000. Both of these rules allow for trainers to race horses that are not on Lasix without fear of them being at a disadvantage, although studies show that Lasix gives no actual performance advantage.
Tomorrow, we will conclude this series by talking about the feasibility of this plan.
Within the past year, horse welfare has become one of the most talked about issues in the sport. Around Kentucky Derby time last year, trainer Steve Asmussen was a topic of conversation when PETA falsely accused him and his assistant trainer of animal cruelty. The Breeders Cup continued talks about making some of the races Lasix-free. Keeneland announced bill, if passed, which would allow for Lasix-free races to their daily cards, possibly starting as early as next spring. The New York Gaming Commission released new medication guidelines for the New York tracks to follow. Frank Stronach, owner of Santa Anita, Gulfstream Park, and Pimlico, among other tracks, has pushed for stricter regulations. Ogden Mills Phipps, chairman of the Jockey Club, said at the annual round table last summer that:
Our horsemen and our customers all deserve a level playing field, with uniform rules and clean competition. We need the national uniform medication program to be implemented in every racing state. We need uniformity of rules and greatly improved lab standards. We need a penalty structure that is strong enough to be a meaningful deterrent – not one that would allow a trainer to amass literally dozens of violations over the course of his career and continue training. And we need to eliminate the use of drugs on race day.
Phipps is exactly right, especially about the last two points: strong, meaningful penalties and the elimination of race day drugs. One of the biggest problems with the current system, besides the lack of uniformity, is the penalty system. Here are just a few examples of penalties from various states:
- Pennsylvania: for steroid use, first offense, horse on vet list and $500 fine; second offense, horse on vet list, $1,000 fine, and 15 day license suspension; third offense, horse on vet list, $2,500 fine, and 30 day license suspension.
- Florida: for specific severe drug use, first offense: $500 to $1,000 fine and up to 15 day suspension of license; second offense, $1,000 to $2,000 fine, up to 60 day suspension of license, and possible revocation of license; third offense (and subsequent offenses), $2,500 to $5,000 fine, up to 180 day suspension of license, and possible revocation of license.
- New Jersey: for phenylbutazone over 5.0 mg/mL, first offense: $500 fine and 15 day suspension of license; second and subsequent offenses: fines and penalties chosen by the New Jersey Racing Commission.
- Illinois: for any drug violation, a fine, license suspension, or license revocation, decide by the Illinois Joint Racing Board.
There are other states like Kentucky, where the fines are much more ($10,000 or more for severe medication penalties), but are differentiated by the type of drug much more specifically than the above four states. If you would like to read more on the medication violation penalties, refer to the racing board or gaming commission of each state.
Each of the above states have different rulings for the same or similar violation. While, phenylbutazone, commonly known as “bute,” is not a steroid and is classified as a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug. Yet, the fines in New Jersey for over-use of phenylbutazone are relatively the same to those in Pennsylvania and Florida for steroid/severe drug use. Seems a little off. Illinois on the other hand, has no set penalties in the rule book; rather they will hand down penalties that they see fit. Going back to what Phipps stated, a “uniform medication program” should be established, and that includes penalties. Many states, like New Jersey and New York, have adopted within the last few years standards that are very similar to the national average in order to move towards uniformity. But the penalties are still off. One of the worst parts about the penalties is the lack of longevity. Basically, trainers can receive many penalties, as long as they can pay the fines and maintain a stable throughout suspensions, and still continue training. How is that program supposed to deter trainers from using illegal medications or over-using legal medications?
One such system that will be the basis of the plan to be proposed in Part Two is the one the American Quarter Horse Association uses. The AQHA has a point system where points are received for positive tests for medications. The points given are based on the type of drug detected (more points for more severe infractions). As points begin to accumulate, fines are handed down as well as AQHA membership suspensions for trainers and registration suspensions for horses are given out, starting at 30 days and going up to a year. The points stay on the record even after the suspension is served. More severe penalties can be handed out and lead to multiple year suspension to lifetime bans. For more information on the AQHA violation system, follow this link. There, you will find the system, a list of suspensions handed down by the AQHA, and the violations on record for horses, trainers, and owners.
Tomorrow, I will talk about how to amend the AQHA system into one that works for thoroughbred racing.
With the announcement this past month that the US Anti-Doping Agency director general will be speaking in New York City the day of the Belmont Stakes to racing delegates, it is time to address the issue of drug use in the sport. Starting Monday, a three part series on drug use and a possible plan to help stop it will be presented right here. On Monday, read about what the regulations are now and how they compared to other racing jurisdictions; on Tuesday, read about my proposed plan to limit drug use; and, on Wednesday, read about the feasibility of this plan. See you Monday for part one of “Fixing America’s Racetracks: Solving the Drug Problem.”
Need help filling out your bracket? Well let’s make it a little bit easier. Using the top 32 horses in the Kentucky Derby Points Standings from this year and last year, here is a March Madness bracket to help you out.
When the tournament is all over, we will show the filled in bracket and see what horse comes out on top.
UPDATE: In the end, it was a matchup of Louisiana Derby winners and Ramsey horses Vicar’s in Trouble and International Star in the final. Last year’s winner came out on to, with Vicar’s in Trouble winning the March Madness of Horse Racing Tournament.
The year was 1937. The race was The Kentucky Derby. The horse was War Admiral. In 2:03.20 minutes, he would capture the Run for the Roses, the last time a Godolphin Arabian direct-sire line horse would win the Derby. Since then, Darley Arabian linked horses have won each and every year. Last year, an article on this site talked about the history of the Triple Crown and many other major US races in terms of pedigree. If you haven’t read it yet, I urge you to read it, as the article not only gives a great, and often forgotten, history lesson, but also shows how the industry has handpicked a sire line to stay, while two other equally important lines die out (read the article here: https://horseracingstation.wordpress.com/2014/06/09/pedigree-nation-tiz-an-important-sire/).
In the past few years, there hasn’t been any horse that has stepped up as a 3 year old from the Godolphin Arabian sire-line, let alone one that has potential to go to the Derby. For the most part, Godolphin Arabian’s are better at distance, a reason why most appear in the Belmont Stakes. However, on Saturday at Santa Anita, Elvis Trujillo and Peter Miller put one mathematical horse on the map, Calculator. This son of In Summation, a Grade 3 winner, won the Sham Stakes in incredible fashion. A runner-up in to American Pharaoh in the Front Runner Stakes and Del Mar Futurity, both Grade 1’s, Calculator proved himself on Saturday. His stock went up after that win. While the Sham isn’t a big race for Derby contenders, the race he is heading to next, the Robert B. Lewis Stakes is. Past winners include Candy Boy, I’ll Have Another, Caracortado, and Pioneerof The Nile, horses that achieved success in their career.
This year’s Derby is setting up to be a great race, with some amazing contenders. While there may not be a lot of standouts, there are those from last year that left a lasting impression. But keep an eye on Calculator, whether he is your pick or not. History could me made this year; even just making it to the gate would be an achievement. We will continue to watch this horse as we move closer to the first Saturday in May.